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  • Writer's pictureAllan Shedlin

There is No Such Thing as a Perfect Dad

Updated: Feb 27

By Allan Shedlin

Grampsy and Founder, DADvocacy Consulting Group & Daddying Film Festival & Forum (D3F)

Of course, the "perfect dad" is a myth

When I first set out to research and write about daddying, I wasn’t sure how to begin. It seemed natural to start by referencing my experiences as a dad and granddad, then as a son and grandson. Then I thought about others who had played fatherly roles in my life. Finally, I remembered that Billy, a four year old pre-kindergarten student, had described my principal’s job as “the daddy of the school.”

Indeed that “definition” of my job was the closest to how I saw my role as principal – it was a very different way to think about it than the way I was taught to think about it in graduate school. I was thrilled that this is what came across to Billy.

As I considered different ways to think about daddying, it occurred to me that if one thought about daddying as a product it might make sense to speak with its “consumers”:

In my elementary school principal days, New York City, 1983


I remembered a study I read that discussed how a car manufacturer dramatically improved production by speaking to the workers on the assembly line to ask them for their ideas. So, I decided to conduct focus groups with the consumers of daddying. I first created a protocol of questions. Each group would consist of five to seven children and youth of like ages. Some groups were single gender and some were co-ed (it was a time before “non-binary” was thought about). My first focus group was with14-year-old boys in New York City.

When I asked them, “If you could create the perfect dad, what would he be like?” I was met with the kind of eye roll that can be expertly delivered by adolescents everywhere. It was followed with, “Mister, there is no such thing as a ‘perfect’ dad, and if there was, he’d be really boring!” As I considered this response, I concurred and couldn’t resist adding that, “Just like there is no such thing as a ‘perfect’ son…or daughter, or spouse, or teacher, or…”

When I asked the kids if we altered the question to, “If you could create the most excellent dad, what would he be like?” the group agreed this was a better way to get to the qualities most desired in an excellent dad. So that’s how I asked the question in the next 27 focus groups with 162 kids (5-21 years old) I conducted in three countries.

As I considered different ways to think about daddying, it occurred to me that if one thought about daddying as a product it might make sense to speak with its “consumers”

I’ve written a variety of pieces about the qualities identified and, not surprisingly, they were very consistent across ages and nationalities. But the question of being a “perfect” parent has come up in the wide array of settings where I’ve conducted parenting workshops. Basically, we’ve agreed that imagining what a “perfect” parent might be like, was only helpful if it was accompanied by the realization that there is no such thing.

And I have also learned that asking parents the question, “Who is the parent you want to be?" is overwhelming for most of us. Rather, I usually end my workshops by asking, “How do you want your child to describe you as a parent 5, 10, 15 years from now?” After all, it can be helpful to consider your child as the “consumer of daddying (or mommying)” if you want to improve that “product.”



Our 3rd Annual Daddying Film Festival & Forum (D3F) Call for Entries ends soon! Check out the D3F website for more details, submission guidelines, and Atticus Award-winning examples from previous years. Students (1st grade through undergrads), Dads/Dad figures, and other indie filmmakers also can head directly to D3F's FilmFreeway page to submit films/videos celebrating the importance of having or being an involved Dad or Dad figure.

ENTRY deadline is MARCH 4th.

LATE deadline is March 25th


Allan Shedlin has devoted his life's work to improving the odds for children and families. He has three daughters, five grandchildren, as well as numerous "bonus" sons/daughters and grandchildren. Trained as an educator, Allan has alternated between classroom service, school leadership, parenting coaching, policy development, and advising at the local, state, and national levels. After eight years as an elementary school principal, Allan founded and headed the National Elementary School Center for 10 years. In the 1980s, he began writing about education and parenting for major news outlets and education trade publications, as well as appearing on radio and TV. In 2008, he was honored as a "Living Treasure" by Mothering Magazine and founded REEL Fathers in Santa Fe, NM, where he now serves as president emeritus. In 2017, he founded the DADvocacy Consulting Group. In 2018, he launched the DADDY Wishes Fund and Daddy Appleseed Fund. In 2019, he co-created and began co-facilitating the Armor Down/Daddy Up! and Mommy Up! programs. He has conducted daddying workshops in such diverse settings as Native American pueblos, veterans groups, nursery schools, penitentiaries, Head Start centers, corporate boardrooms, and various elementary schools, signifying the widespread interest in men in becoming the best possible dad. In 2022, Allan founded and co-directed the Daddying Film Festival & Forum to enable students, dads, and other indie filmmakers to use film as a vehicle to communicate the importance of fathers or father figures in each others' lives. Allan earned his elementary and high school diplomas from NYC’s Ethical Culture Schools, BA at Colgate University, MA, at Columbia University’s Teachers College, and an ABD at Fordham University. But he considers his D-A-D and GRAND D-A-D the most important “degrees” of all.


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